Parents are now more aware than ever that their right to raise their own children is in danger. Recent election results in Virginia and elsewhere testify to that awakening. A lot of the news focused on the public school curriculum of critical race theory, which pits children against one another based on their race. Parents never signed on to that.
But they’re also waking up to a host of other disturbing trends in public education. An extremist sex education curriculum includes pornography and pushes transgenderism. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) instruction tells kids exactly how they should feel and relate to others while using invasive data-mining to collect psycho-social information on them.
COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates are another point of contention. All of these directives hijack the role of parents as the emotional and moral guides of their children.
Parents ought to be asking: What next? If those trends are left unchecked, I think the answer could be the state licensing of parents.
Requiring State Approval to Parent Your Kids
Social engineers would certainly like to see legislation that allows the state to assess parents for “fitness,” dictating whether people can raise their own children. But you won’t see statist politicians or left-wing school boards speaking openly about such licensing. The timing isn’t right, especially after recent elections.
The idea is still consigned to journal articles and some academic chatter. But let’s not forget that critical race theory and transgenderism were once laughed off as fringy academic notions before they burst into newsrooms, then into classrooms and public libraries.
Ethics professor Hugh LaFollette laid out the idea in a 1980 academic article titled “Licensing Parents.” The gist is that all biological parents ought to go through the same kind of process required of adoptive parents, such as interviews, psychological testing, home visits.
His thesis is that regulation of parenting through state licensing would maximize parental competence and minimize the potential for child abuse. He relies heavily on an analogy comparing the licensing of parents to state licensing required to practice medicine or law and even to drive a car.
LaFollette’s argument comes with a lot of baggage. He claims the process could be minimally intrusive, and that we could trust most bureaucrats not to be biased in awarding licenses. But the main sticking point, he argues, is the presumption that biological parents have natural dominion over their children. He says we should reject that assumption because it treats children as property. But he doesn’t deny that licensing parents would essentially treat all children as property of the state.
Thirty years later, LaFollette advocated an incremental path to licensing parents because the resistance to his idea was so overwhelming. In his 2010 follow-up essay, “Licensing Parents, Revisited,” he suggested we take steps like requiring courses in parenting, giving tax breaks to parents who voluntarily get licensed, and monitoring parents more.
He also noted that we should question the right to procreate, although he didn’t mention what to do about pregnancy. However, pro-licensing “libertarian” professor Andrew Cohen offered his take on that: “Once pregnant, you violate no law until the child is born — and only then if you decide to raise it without getting a license.” Feel better?
Child-Rearing a Long Target of Social Engineers
The idea that outside authorities should control the rearing of children rather than flesh-and-blood mothers and fathers dates back at least to ancient times. In the modern era, Karl Marx’s 1848 “Communist Manifesto” included the rallying cry for “Abolition of the Family!” Today’s social engineers speak of replacing the traditional family with a more collectivist system of “caregiving units” or caregiving relationships.
The trial balloons are numerous. They include Hillary Clinton’s 1996 treatise “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” and MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry’s 2013 spot claiming children “belong” to the community, not their families.
The staunchly Marxist Black Lives Matter organization also announced a mission to “disrupt” the nuclear family and replace it with collectivist forms of child-rearing. The Biden administration’s 2021 pictograms of the “Life of Linda” along with the Obama 2012 campaign’s “Life of Julia” are both infographics that propagandize for fatherlessness and the control of women and children by the state.
On top of that, elitists’ contempt for parental rights today is more intense and out in the open than ever. We can feel it when parents who express concerns at school board meetings are told to just shut up. Or when the left-wing National Association of School Boards asks the Biden administration to investigate such parents as domestic terrorists, and Attorney General Merrick Garland echoes those sentiments. Perhaps most chilling was the arrest of a father — at the direction of the school board in Loudoun County, Va. — for expressing exasperation after the cover-up of his daughter’s rape in a school bathroom.
But the hot trend of disrespect for parental rights shouldn’t surprise us. We can feel it when schools hide health information from parents. We see it in legislation that allows minors to be taken in for abortions without parental knowledge or consent. It happens when schools hide from parents their child’s claim to be transgender. Judges have even stripped custody from parents who don’t want their minor child to take cross-sex hormones.
Framework for Licensing Parents Already Emerging
A structure for eliminating parental rights comes into focus when you examine three trends in particular. First, there is a growing propaganda campaign that vilifies family cohesion. Second, there’s an ongoing crusade to equate “sexual rights” as human rights across the board, and therefore inviolable. Finally, laws that grant special privileges to sexual orientation and gender identity — SOGI laws such as the “Equality Act” — are designed to silence dissent on either of the above points.
The propaganda campaign against “family privilege” is related to critical race theory. It argues that children who grow up in intact homes have “unearned” privileges that disadvantage other children. According to the National Council on Family Relations, family privilege is a relic of white supremacy and should be dismantled. In this context, parental rights are also racist.
Planned Parenthood and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) are just two organizations that have pushed hard for extremist forms of sex education in schools. They share the concept of sexual rights as inviolable human rights. This is a construct that removes parental guidance from the picture by making the state the final arbiter of whether a minor’s human rights are being violated.
Furthermore, that mission is global. The International Planned Parenthood Federation’s 2008 declaration on “sexual rights” applies to children as well as adults. It states that no person’s sexual choices can be abridged. For children, this would include the right to consent to sex, based not on age but on the vague concept of “the evolving capacity of the child,” easily construed to mean any age at which a child claims to consent.
Finally, SOGI laws like the Equality Act are consistent with — and reinforce — the premise that sexual rights (or “gender” rights) are human rights. Although it’s described primarily as an anti-discrimination measure, if passed by the Senate the Equality Act would serve as a roadblock to parental rights in at least two ways.
First, it puts a national ban on all talk therapy (so-called “conversion therapy”) that doesn’t affirm a transgender identity. Such bans have already prevented many concerned parents from getting effective counseling to address issues with a child’s sexual activities or gender confusion. A national ban would completely cut them off from helping their child by labeling their efforts as illegal discrimination (and likely also a violation of the child’s sexual rights).
Second, the Equality Act specifically rejects any religious or conscience exemptions. This opens the door for a state actor to declare “unfit” any dissenting parent, Christian or otherwise. If that happened, we’d likely see more state-enforced procedures to determine parental fitness.
Licensing of parents might still sound fringy, but it’s an old social engineering dream that dies hard. And they’re busily building the road to get there. Unless there is aggressive and sustained pushback, you can count on the idea invading the mainstream.
So parents can’t let down their guard. They hold the key to getting through this wild ride. Stella Morabito is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Follow Stella on Twitter.